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Ferrari Success: Teamwork, Reliability and Schumacher

August 01, 2004|From Associated Press

HOCKENHEIM, Germany — Getting two cars to perform properly in a Grand Prix race for almost two hours is a tough task, especially when they're averaging more than 125 mph.

Ferrari has done it right since 1999 and is ready to extend its streak of Formula One championships to six in a row and a record 14 overall.

It wasn't so long ago when four-time world champion Alain Prost said driving a Ferrari was like driving a truck. But things have changed for the car with the prancing stallion as its symbol.

"We are able to achieve 100 percent most of the time and that is what makes this team so strong and us so difficult to beat," Michael Schumacher said after last Sunday's victory at the German Grand Prix.

It was his 11th in 12 races this season and virtually assures Schumacher of winning his seventh world driving title. The Ferraris have been so efficient this year, it took a crash to beat them.

Schumacher's only loss came at the Monaco Grand Prix, when he and Juan Pablo Montoya crashed while warming up tires behind a safety car.

The 1990s, though, was Ferrari's low point. From 1991 to 1993, Ferrari failed to win a race; in '94 and '95, there was only one win each year. Its last world champion driver was South African Jody Scheckter in 1979.

When Prost went to Ferrari to get away from a bitter rivalry with Ayrton Senna at McLaren, he was disappointed too.

After the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix, he said the Ferrari was so slow and difficult to drive that it could have been compared with a truck. He was fired shortly after his comments and replaced for the final race of the season.

Before the year ended, though, Luca Di Montezemolo -- the current Fiat chairman -- took over as managing director of the Ferrari division and started making changes.

"You cannot judge success to one single point," Schumacher said. "It is a series of combinations which need to be right to be successful as we have been."

Many people credit Jean Todt with beginning Ferrari's turnaround when he arrived in 1993 after a successful career as head of the Peugeot Rally and Sportscar division.

"There are some pinpoints, of which obviously Jean Todt is the first one to mention to pull the right people together," Schumacher said.

Ferrari finished third in 1994 and 1995, and second from 1996 to '98 before winning the title in 1999 -- its first since 1983. Now it can clinch the team title at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Aug. 15.

Schumacher must wait at least two more races before mathematically clinching the title. It would mean another impressive stat in Ferrari's Formula One history.

It leads Formula One teams in total victories (178), pole positions (173) and fastest laps in a race (177), thanks mostly to Schumacher.

Since joining Ferrari after the 1996 season, Schumacher has posted 62 of his 81 victories. He has had a lot of help

Ross Brawn is Ferrari's technical director, the man who makes final decisions on which cars are performing best. He also confers with race strategist Luca Badisseri, who made the call at the French Grand Prix to go with four pit stops.

It was a daring move that paid off, and Schumacher was impressed.

"No risk, no fun," he said.

The team also includes chief designer Rory Byrne and chief engineer Paolo Martinelli. Brawn and Byrne were part of the Benetton team when Schumacher won his first two world championships in '94 and '95, and both are sticking with him through 2006.

After that, who knows?

"The point is we are all not really that old to retire rather soon," Schumacher said. "We have some more years in front of us. If I understand the situation well, then everybody is happy and everybody could imagine to keep going."

Success breeds happiness and the Ferrari team works at it. The last time Schumacher failed to finish a race because of mechanical failure was at the 2001 German Grand Prix.

Even then, it was a fluke. There was an accident on the first turn, Schumacher slowed down but was hit by Luciano Burti's car. The race was restarted, Schumacher hopped into the backup car but went only 23 laps before stopping.

There's no stopping Ferrari these days.

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